Ken Larsen's web site - How to control urban growth


This is my review of the book "Better Not Bigger - How to Take Control of Urban Growth and Improve Your Community" by Eben Fodor 1999.  It was recommended to me by David Schwartz, a fellow Chapel Hill resident.  I'm glad I took his advice.  It's a fabulous book.  It has lots of timeless advice that is very germane to the current state of affairs in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I strongly urge all community activists to purchase a copy.  I got mine from Amazon.

Below is a table which cross references sections of the book with what currently is going on in Chapel Hill:




Chapel Hill version
8-16 Introduction    
11 Efforts to control growth are often unsuccessful This is caused by the "Growth Machine", a propaganda machine designed to brainwash citizens into supporting growth.  They also argue that the taxpayers should subsidize growth, because "growth is good". Chamber of Commerce
17-28 Chapter 1: The Endangered Landscape    
19 Dwindling supply of land U.S. urban sprawl is consuming 256 acres of land every hour = the size of Indiana over 10 years.  
20 Sprawl causes animal extinctions and reduces land for agriculture. Each year California is losing 100,000 acres of agriculture land to urban development.  
29-37 Chapter 2:  Urban Growth Machine    


Growth Machine Land owners, real estate developers, mortgage bankers, realtors, and construction companies team together to lobby local government to grow, grow, grow.  Growth puts more money in their pocket.  Aaron Nelson (head of the Chamber of Commerce) is the head of the Chapel Hill growth machine - doing handstands to convince people that the only solution is for Chapel Hill to grow, grow, grow.

Developers like Roger Perry help fund the Growth Machine.
30 Business owners are naive in their support of growth. Business owners support growth, because they believe that growth will bring more customers.  However, growth will attract competition, and new competition may negatively affect the current businesses. The owner of my gym is excited about the Village Plaza mixed use project, because he expects his membership to grow.  However, a new gym is being built at nearby University Mall with purportedly lower fees.
33 Example of a land development scheme This is an example of how a factory could get built despite widespread public opposition.  
34 There are many supporters of the Growth Machine local newspapers
interior decorators
home inspectors
Chamber of Commerce's Aaron Nelson got many of these to speak at the January 22, 2014 Town Council meeting.  See the Town video.
35-36 How to control the growth machine Citizen involvement is needed to offset the power of the Growth machine.

People need to be educated.  The Growth Machine's propaganda needs to be debunked.
Our Town, CHALT
38-59 Chapter 3:  The 12 big myths of Growth    
40 12 Myths about growth The primary myth is that growth will increase net tax revenue.  The reality is that it doesn't.  If this myth were true, then large cities would have lower per capita taxes than small towns.  The opposite is true.

The second myth is that a town has to grow to solve an unemployment problem.  Growth will create jobs, but then outsiders move in to compete for those jobs. 
51 The Growth Machine will resort to name calling to combat citizen opposition to growth. Activists are referred to as  NIMBYs (not in my backyard)and ANTIs (against everything). "There are 40 people who fight every attempt to develop.  They say no to everything."  -Alfredo Mendes, owner of Alfredo's Pizza Villa.  That's what Alfredo has been told by other people.  He believes it.
60-76 Chapter 4: The truth about jobs, housing and growth    
62 Job creation paradox The more jobs that you create, the more people from other communities will want to move in to claim them. IBM had job openings in nearby RTP back in 1972.  I moved down here from Massachusetts to claim one of them.
67 Should you try to attract a company to move to your community? Do a cost-benefit analysis among other things.  Page 67 lists key questions that should be asked.  
68 Tips on how to provide real economic benefits to local people One tip is fill local jobs with local applicants.  Ditto for contractors. The Chapel Hill Town manager hired an outside consultant to create an FBC, and paid him $ 240K to do it.  That's against the advice in the book.
72-74 Affordable housing Require developers to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing.  This is called "inclusionary zoning."  Provide density bonuses to developers who comply. This was not done in the Ephesus-Fordham plan.
74-75 Link housing to job creation If a business (e.g. a hotel) wants to move to your town, have it subsidize housing for any low income employees it has.  Such "linkages" are widely used in California and the Northeast and help reduce automobile travel. This is not being done.
75 Community Land Trusts (CLT) Have a nonprofit buy land and build affordable housing on that land. The current Town Council is trying to do this via DHIC; however, this effort is currently bogged down in red tape and may take many years before the first units are built.
75 Impact fees Assess impact fees against developers to pay for roads, schools, libraries, sewage treatment, etc. According to Council member Ed Harrison, Chapel Hill does not levy impact fees.

According to Terri Buckner, OWASA imposes an impact fee for every hookup for sewer and water, and the school board collects an impact fee.
77-103 Chapter 5:  Discovering the real cost of growth in your community    
82 Compact growth (higher density) costs less than sprawl If growth is inevitable, it's better to grow upward (high rises) than outward (sprawl).  However, growth remains costly no matter how it is done, and property taxes will similarly rise. The current Town Council and Growth Machine favor high rise buildings over sprawl.  That's consistent with the book.
83 Costs of growth to local government Increased taxes
Increased debt
Infrastructure deficit
Facility maintenance deficit
Reduction in public services

Funds for the above are usually diverted to pay for the new development.

Growth costs more than the revenue that it generates.
85-90 Explanation of why a growing community costs more per capita in taxes than a stable one Schools are the most expensive cost.  Transportation and sewage system impact are second and third. Cost of a new school was omitted in the Ephesus-Fordham impact analysis.  This was an egregious omission, because the existing school system is currently near capacity. 
91-92 How to estimate the cost of growth Public finance is complex.  The Town government should provide data from which unit growth costs can be calculated.  
93 School costs Schools are the most expensive cost introduced by new development.  
93-95 Transportation costs    
95-96 Sewer system costs    
96-97 Water system facility costs    
97 Environmental and other costs    
98-102 Calculating the cost of growth in your community Citizens will have to create a spreadsheet for their community.  Each type of infrastructure should specify three types of costs:

Catch-up costs
Keep-up costs
New capacity costs

If this spreadsheet is accurately done, it should become obvious that development impact fees should be raised.

The public should be advised of the result - to educate them on what the true cost of growth is.
A lot of infrastructure costs were omitted in the Town's Ephesus-Fordham plan.  This led the public to believe that E-F was a great deal.
102-103 Who should pay for growth? Development impact fees are the preferred way.

Developers argue that growth benefits the community and should be subsidized.
Impact fees were not extracted from the developers of E-F.  One was proposed ... $ 100K per property owner for storm water ..., but it was later declared illegal.
104-139 Chapter 6:  How to put the brakes on growth    
105 An annual growth rate of 2 to 4% adds up quickly At 6% growth per year, Boulder would become the size of New York City in 70 years. Chapel Hill population grew by 17.49% from 2000 to 2010.  That equates to an annual growth rate of 1.58%.
107-110 Step incentivizing growth. Pages 108-109 gives a table of 10 common growth subsidies and the growth-neutral equivalent. Most of the list of growth incentives were done in Ephesus-Fordham!
107 Speculative developments are harmful to a community.   This sounds a lot like Obey Creek and Village Plaza.  Both are Roger Perry developments.
113 List of reasons why a community would impose growth controls. The top four are:
1. Quality of life preservation
2. Reduction in traffic congestion
3. Sewer capacity limitations
4. Water capacity limitations.
114 Growth controls should be regional If one town imposes growth controls, that may cause growth in neighboring towns.  
114-116 The best way to slow growth is to impose development impact fees. State laws need to be reviewed to ensure that they permit such fees.  
116 Provide incentives for good development Example:  Lower impact fees if affordable housing is provided.  
116-119 Set threshold/minimum standards for growth  Examples:  water quality standard, percent of land allocated for park land and open space, affordable housing, traffic congestion levels  
119-120 Impose growth rate limits Example:  Impose a limit of 1% growth per year on the number of new housing units.  
120 Cap a city's ultimate size Pages 121-123 show what Boulder, Colorado did.  
120, 123-124 Adequate public facility requirements These are also called "Concurrency Requirements".  Adequate facilities (schools, water, sewer, roads) must be in place before a new development is approved.  If not, the developer must pay for them. This was not done with Ephesus-Fordham.
124-125 Urban growth boundaries (UGB) and greenbelts UGBs serve as the border between urban and rural land.  
125-125 Zoning Some cities require a supermajority of a city council or a voter referendum before an upzoning is approved. I believe a supermajority was not required with Ephesus-Fordham.   It certainly wasn't put on a voter ballot.
126-127 Design of new developments must include public review. A scary example is given of explosive growth around Washington D.C. The new FBC process kills public input -limiting it to just cosmetic issues via a Community Design Commission (CDC).

The Washington D.C. example is repeating itself in Chapel Hill.
127-128 Community Impact Statement (CIS) Should be required before a development is approved.  It's a study that addresses things like traffic and schools.  
128-130 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Should be required before a development is approved.  
132-133 Limiting speculative development    
134-137 Preserving undeveloped land    
137-139 How to gain public support for growth controls Historically, the Chamber of Commerce is the only group which opposes growth controls. This is so true in Chapel Hill.
140-153 Chapter 7:  The new millennium community    
143-144 definition of a "sustainable community" Growth is not sustainable.  
147-152 12 steps for achieving a sustainable community    
152-153 Concluding remarks A community needs strong support from their state, the federal government, and the courts to implement growth control.  



Ken Larsen's home page

Ephesus/Fordham project